The Captive

The Captive

In the complete darkness of the seance room, a faint luminescence appeared, turning into two columns like waterfalls of gentle light. A brighter shimmering manifested between them, flowers picked out in white light, moving slowly upwards, becoming a gorgeous, flower bedecked dress. Under the folds of the gown a female form shaped and moved the mysterious fabric. The waterfalls now created the impression of long fine hair on a woman’s head. Pearls of light shone at her throat, though her face was not visible. The apparition moved sinuously, and spoke in a soft and melodious woman’s voice, uttering words in a language none of those present could understand. She moved towards the audience.

Caroline felt the touch of a delicate, insubstantial hand on her bare arm, and shivered. There was the strong smell of violets.

Then the apparition folded in on itself and was gone. A heavy groan sounded.

‘Lights, please,’ the medium said, and groaned again.

Someone turned on the electric lights, so much harsher than gas lighting, revealing everything.

The medium was slumped in his chair, pale-faced. Caroline looked at his hands, large, hairy masculine hands, massive fingers apparently incapable of any delicacy. He was a powerfully built man. When he stood, as he did now, unsteadily, he was over six feet tall and broad of shoulder.

Caroline looked for any signs of fakery, even stepping up to the medium’s chair and examining it for any clue to the nature of the illusion.

‘She is real,’ the medium said. His voice was deep and somewhat hoarse, no musicality in it at all.

Glancing around for evidence of somewhere a confederate could hide, Caroline was startled when the medium laid his hand on her arm, in the very place the apparition had touched. His hand was heavy and rough.

‘She is real,’ he said again, ‘and she likes you. She does not like many people.’

His assistant bustled between them. Mrs Cranborne was a short, portly, irritable woman. she was the right height for the apparition but there was nothing sinuous about her. She scowled at Caroline, but asked politely that she should give the medium some space, as manifestations were very draining for him.

The rest of the audience chattered excitedly about what they had just seen, credulous every one. they all believed that they had witnessed the apparition of an Ancient Egyptian princess who was the medium’s spirit guide. They did not seem to care that none of them had received any comprehensible message from the other side.

Only Caroline did not believe in the reality of the apparition. She had no idea how it was achieved, but she strongly resisted any belief in spirits — and yet, that voice, the touch on her arm.

Aunt May was quite delirious with joy at the experience.

‘He said she liked you, darling Caroline,’ she whispered.

Caroline smiled. Her aunt gained great solace from these seances and the assurances she got that her husband was living a blissful afterlife. Caroline had no intention of expressing any doubt about the matter to Aunt May.

Something tickled the back of her neck and she smelled violets again, mixed with a sappy, woody odour.

She looked about to see what was causing it, and noticed a look of agitation on the medium’s face. Mrs Cranborne noticed too, and went to have some words with him. They both looked in Caroline’s direction, but she pretended not to notice, agreeing with whatever her Aunt said, though she hardly heard a word.

A maid brought in some tea for the assembled company, as this was only an interlude in the proceedings. Messages were to be sought once the medium had regained his strength.

At last the lights were switched off again — click— so sudden a darkness. Caroline did not like it much. The medium began to breathe heavily, calling on the princess to bring messages for those assembled in the room.

Caroline felt a flutter like leaves passing over her face and quickly grasped for whatever it was, but her hand closed on empty air. She felt a touch of lips to her mouth and gasped, breathing in cold, then warmth and the odour of a woodland in spring. She stood and began to utter words in that strange language, which she now knew was not Ancient Egyptian. Indeed, though neither voice nor language was her own, she understood the meaning. Help me, help me to get away.

The electric light clicked on again, and Mrs Cranborne came over with a look of extreme annoyance on her face. The medium looked startled.

‘I think you had better leave,’ said Mrs Cranborne.

‘No, no,’ said the medium. ‘We must talk. Please come through to the parlour.’

Caroline was confused. She followed the medium through the door into the next room. Behind her, she could hear Mrs Cranborne beginning a talk on the difficulties of gaining messages from spirits.

The medium turned to Caroline with a very stern expression as soon as the door was closed.

‘I do not appreciate other mediums coming to my evenings under false pretences,’ he said.

‘I am not a medium,’ Caroline protested.

‘Then’ he said, ‘you must be subject to a spirit possession. I will draw it out and free you.’

He raised his right hand, holding a small round device, and approached as if ready to pluck something from her mind.

Caroline felt a shiver of fear, not her own, in the core of her body.

‘No, sir, do not touch me.’

‘Miss,’ the medium said, ‘you do not understand. The princess seems to have an affinity with you, but I must retrieve her. I need her for the work I do. I give solace and healing to so many — your aunt included.’

Caroline wavered. Words screamed in her mind, the meaning of them screamed in her soul.

‘I can’t,’ she said. ‘I can’t.’

She fled from the room, told her aunt she had to leave, then ran. She ran all the way to the old woods, then into the trees, joy at the familiar smells, the comfort of home. Caroline fell onto the mossy earth and exhaled the spirit — not a woman at all, but an ash tree, lithe and green.

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